What's the value of art ?

Photo by Sean Brown
Until recently, I thought it was difficult to articulate why I think it's so important to be surrounded by art and beauty in a way that tangibly shows its value. I just knew in my core that art makes people feel good and that I wanted to be part of that process. But how do I turn this into a real business? Art seemed to be one of the most difficult field to make a good living out of for a lot of artists, but now I think it's only because the value of the artwork is often lost in translation. 

Having gone through a lot of personal development over the past couple years through numerous books, various courses, workshops and a mastermind, I'm starting to find ways to better communicate the value and importance of art in people's homes, businesses and public spaces in a more effective way. I'm also gaining a better understanding of my urge to create and share art with as many people as possible so they too can reap the benefits of art, as intended. 

Why do people buy art ?

There are many reasons why people buy art. Some buy art as an investment with the hopes that it will increase in value in a distant future. Others buy art to decorate their homes or office so they don't have to stare at a blank wall. And a number of people buy art because the artwork and/or the artist make them feel good. To me the third option is the most attractive but it's also the most intangible reason why people buy art. Still there's a way to demonstrate the value of buying art by acknowledging that when these people buy art, they are buying the experience of an emotion.  When you really think about it, we all buy things to be able to feel a certain emotion. That's why retail therapy is a real thing. The object is just a physical representation of that specific feeling we're looking for. For example if you buy a car instead of buying a bus pass, it may be because you want to feel free to move wherever and whenever you want and feel comfortable doing so. So the emotion that you're buying in this case is a feeling of freedom and comfort.

Art on the other hand can alleviate pain such as anxiety, stress, depression, boredom, and more. It all depends on the art and what you're looking for. When it comes to art, there's a really insightful video that explains 5 reasons why people buy art, entitled "What is art for ? ". Narrated by Alain De Botton, it's a great starting point on the road of better understanding what art can do for you, your employees, your clients, your peers, your family or your friends. In this video, De Bottom narrowed it down to 5 reasons :  

1. Art keep us hopeful
2. Art makes us less lonely
3. Art rebalances us
4. Art helps us appreciate stuff
5. Art is propaganda for what really matters

My series of cloud paintings in progress

Pretty art keeps us hopeful : Art can be an emblem of hope in a world that sometime seems really negative and depressing. Some people need to be reminded of the simple pretty things in life like flowers, animals or even clouds to get a break from all the negativity. Just looking at a pretty image will enable them to be transported in the world depicted in a painting. Focusing on the pretty will put their mind at ease. Imagine working in a stressful office where everything is grey. Add some bad news and your thoughts can easily descend into thinking about everything that is wrong. But if you look up and see pretty clouds like the ones above, and pretty colours, it can interrupt your negative train of thoughts by introducing a positive image with which you can start associating positive feelings and reduce the negativity in your mind. For example these clouds could bring you back to a time when you were a kid and used to spend time looking for fun cloud shapes in the sky. Or they could take you to a time when you were traveling to a fun destination aboard a plane and was mesmerized by how beautiful clouds look from above. Pretty things can alleviate despair and depression. They are an emblem of hope, ready to be used when needed. So surround yourself with things you find pretty and that bring you joy in order to keep you in a good mood. 

One of my urban sketch in the Toronto Subway

Art makes us less lonely :
Art makes us less lonely by helping us see that others do the same or feel the same way we do. Art has the ability to connect people by showing us that we are more alike then we think, and therefore that we are not alone. Sometime, something as simple as depicting people doing ordinary things, like the sketch of the girl on her cell phone depicted above, reminds us that we're normal but also worthy. When art depicts deep emotions like despair, anger, and lost, it also reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering because many feel the same way. That realization in itself can alleviate some pain. There are times when pretty things cannot alleviate certain pain because they are still being processed and need space to exist before returning to a happier state. This is when art depicting the same pain holds space and offer solace by recognizing that the pain is real and valid. It's just like when we need to hear a sad song to make us feel better in our sadness. So don't hesitate to buy art depicting pain if it can help alleviate yours. 

A arwork from my personal journal
Art rebalances us : There's a belief that we tend to be attracted to what's missing in our lives and sometimes art can be the missing piece. If we live in a dense city for example and we long for nature, we're likely to bring nature indoor through plants, photographs and paintings. If we tend to have a chaotic live, we may reach for a calming and minimalistic piece that will offer some peace amongst the chaos. If we're looking for answers on the big questions of life, we might gravitate toward mystical or surreal art like the one above. Art can essentially help you fill a void and make you more whole. If there's an excess in a particular area, art can bring back some balance. For example in an office that's very stern and serious, lighthearted artwork and rebalance the environment for the people working in it. Imagine an very austere law firm office where everything seems so serious, but when you go to the meeting room there's a picture of anthropomorphic animals in suits. The right artwork can bring some lightness through humour while adhering to the style of the office, thereby creating a balance environment. 

My sketch of the sculpture garden in Toronto
Art helps us appreciate stuff : All too often most people live in their heads, thinking about what the didn't do right in the past or what could go wrong in the future while missing everything about the time they are currently living in. Art can make you stop and appreciate what's around you by being present. Depicting ordinary objects or day to day scenes like the sculpture above essentially enables the artist to highlight some of the beauty that surrounds us but that are often missed because we are not being present. I've noticed quite a few time while sketching on location with the Toronto Urban Sketchers, passerby would stop to see what we're doing, only to look at what we're looking at an event taking pictures of what we were sketching. Being present is another great way to bring feelings of happiness and calm, and art and be a vehicle to becoming more present. 

My painting of the of the Toronto Police Memorial
Art is propaganda for what really matters : Art can be used to deliver a message or communicate beleifs. This is a great opportunity, for example, for a firm to communicate their corporate culture to their employees. Just like the art of Michaelangelo was used by the church to communicate the scriptures to devotees who could not read, art can say something without using words. An office with a custom graffiti art on the wall says something completely different then an office with generic motivational posters with words like "collaboration" "integrity" and "synergy". When using art in an office, make sure that it says the what you want to say to your employees, your clients and visitors.  

So what's the value of art? 

The value of art varies depending on the need of the benefactors and the kind of art they choose to live with. What's the value of art when its makes you feel happy and you then have more energy to do the things you really want to do? What's the value of art when it effectively communicate the corporate culture to your employees and they are more eager to collaborate on project because of that? What's the value of art when it makes you feel understood? What's the value of art when it reduces the number of day your employees take off work because the environment is no longer depressing? To really understand the value of art, I think it's important to look into what the artwork can do for you and work your way backwards. If adding the right art in your office reduces employees anxiety and depression resulting in a 10% annual decrease in paid sick days across your 100 employees who cost you $100,000 per year in sick days per year, then the value of that artwork could be  $10,000 per year.